Whoever came up with what’s generally regarded as the first weekend of the summer season as the most appropriate time of year to remember our fallen soldiers probably ought to have had his or her head examined. For all our best intentions, it’s tough to keep our minds on patriotic solemnities right about now, when we’re just bursting out of our long bout of cabin fever and the barbecue beckons.
Luckily for us, the people at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park provide a way each Memorial Day weekend both to honor the fallen servicemen and women with proper ceremony and to burst the bonds of winter with a kick-out-the-jams party. And all the activities are framed within the context of the war over which FDR presided, the so-called “Good War.”
Returning to the FDR Library Lawn after a couple of years of being shooed indoors due to major site renovations, the World War II Military Encampment goes on all day this Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25. Reenactors in full battle dress will be on hand to show off their props – weapons, vehicles, bivouac gear and other wartime paraphernalia dating back as far as 1917 – and to chat about military history with passersby.
To wrap up the weekend, there is a memorial service and wreath-laying at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday in the Rose Garden. That’s where Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are buried; but attendees are also invited to meditate on their own lost loved ones, or all who have perished in wartime, while the great World War II-era leader is being honored. Kathleen Durham, executive director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Center at Val-Kill, will be this year’s guest speaker at the graveside service.
Memorial Day weekend at the FDR site traditionally starts off on a more upbeat note, though: a live simulation of a 1940s-style USO Show like those put on to entertain American troops serving around the globe. This year’s show will feature two hours of entertainment including live Big Band music from the 1930s and ’40s, comedy and juggling, historic newsreels and more. While the rest of the weekend’s activities offer free admission (you still have to pay the usual entry fee if you want to tour the FDR House and Museum), a $5-per-person donation is suggested for the USO Show. It begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 23 in the Henry A. Wallace Center. Dress retro if you can, and get ready to jitterbug.
Though that USO party is usually the kickoff event for Memorial Day weekend in Hyde Park, this year the FDR Library is jump-starting the festivities on Thursday evening with another in its exceptionally fine series of lecture/presentations by world-class historians. Nigel Hamilton, author of The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942, will be on hand in the Wallace Center for a talk and book-signing, beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 22. Admission is free. Based on years of archival research and interviews with his last surviving aides and family members, The Mantle of Command offers a definitive account of FDR’s masterful – and underappreciated – command of the Allied war effort. Hamilton takes readers inside FDR’s White House Oval Study, his personal command center, and into the meetings where he battled with Churchill about strategy and tactics and overrode the near-mutinies of his own generals and secretary of war.
Had enough of war talk? Ready to do something just plain fun and self-indulgent on this long weekend? Memorial Day weekend is also the traditional opener for crafts and antique fairs. If you’re already in Dutchess County on Saturday or Sunday to catch part of the FDR site goings-on, you can zip up Route 9 to spend a few hours at the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. Marking the Fair’s 38th year, more than 200 exhibitors will display furniture, folk art, decorative objects and more. The Fair is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The admission charge is $10 for adults and free for children under 12, and parking at the Fairgrounds is free.
Meanwhile, on the west side of the Hudson, the Woodstock-New Paltz Art & Crafts Fair returns to the Ulster County Fairgrounds for its 33rd anniversary. More than 240 juried artists and craftspeople from across America will be showing and selling their wares, and the Catskill Mountain Artisans’ Guild will offer hands-on demonstrations of potterymaking, weaving, metalsmithing, spinning, woodcuts and paper-marbling. Crafts Fair hours will be from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, May 26. Entry costs $8 general admission, $7 for seniors and free for kids 12 and under; parking is free.
FDR Presidential Library & Museum/ Henry A. Wallace Center: Nigel Hamilton book talk, Thursday, May 22, 7 p.m., free; USO Show, Friday, May 23, 7 p.m., $5; World War II Military Encampment, Saturday/Sunday, May 24/25, free; Rose Garden Graveside Service, Monday, May 26, 1:30 p.m., free; (800) 337-8474, www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu.
Rhinebeck Antiques Fair, Saturday, May 24, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, May 25, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., $10, Dutchess County Fairgrounds, 6550 Springbrook Avenue (Route 9), Rhinebeck; (845) 876-4001, www.rhinebeckantiquesfair.com.
Woodstock-New Paltz Art & Crafts Fair, Saturday/Sunday, May 24/25, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday, May 26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., $8/$7, Ulster County Fairgrounds, 249 Libertyville Road, New Paltz; www.quailhollow.com.